This paper addresses the main dynamics in the global agro-industrial value chains for tropical products. It examines new upgrading opportunities for smallholder production in Africa as a consequence of two dominant trends within global agricultural value chains. The first is caused by the dynamics of the co-existing collaboration and intensified rivalry between lead firms within the same chain. The other is caused by new opportunities and challenges stemming from increased requirements on retailer-driven markets in the North and expansion of new markets in the South. The paper points out the need to rectify the heavily biased policy focus on standard compliance with the purpose of strengthening smallholder incorporation and upgrading in retailer-driven strands of global value chains ending in the North. Instead, markets in the South and in emerging economies may function as a training ground for upgrading of African smallholder production via increases in volume and consistency of exports.